OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA — Church is finished. The music stopped at the Gathering in northwest Oklahoma City.
What we’re left with is a nearly empty sanctuary, and the portrait of a front row family.
They are the Oakes, Tim Junior and Tim Senior, Cassandra Oakes, wife and mother, Charo Guillory, friend and translator for Cassandra, who is both blind and deaf.
Guillory says, “She and I have more of a personal relationship because both of my parents were deaf.”
Cassandra has been unable to hear church music or sermons on her own since birth, unable to see the people around her for the past twelve years.
“It was a slow process,” she says. “It started when I was 19 years old.”
A disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa took Cassandra’s sight gradually.
She had time to get a college degree, raise a family, and come to terms with her disabilities.
“I made up my mind,” she explains, “that I was going to keep being positive in my mind and my thinking, that in my life I would keep a positive attitude about everything.”
She dragged her family to the positive side as well. Tim Sr. remembers asking himself, “Why did this happen to her? Why? And she was saying, ‘Don’t worry about it. Everything is going to be okay.'”
A couple of years ago Cassandra founded an organization called S.H.E.P. in Oklahoma.
It stands for Sighted Hearing Encouragement Program.
She began seeking out the few, isolated people around her who were also blind and deaf to give them training and the same message she learned in pursuing success.
“With that I accepted the word Can,” says Oakes. “Can is accepted in my vocabulary. Can’t is not accepted in my vocabulary.”
On a Monday morning at Western Oaks Middle School a new round of state testing looms for every student.
Cassandra’s friend Charo, who works at the school, called an assembly.
You could hear a pin drop as Miss Oakes took the microphone to speak. “It doesn’t matter how many times you try,” she tells the students. “You can do it.”
So many students looking on, so many challenges the rest of us can’t hope to comprehend, and yet it takes a lady who can’t listen or see to reach out and touch every single one of them with a message of love.
Cassandra Oakes is expecting her 7th grandchild soon. She babysits them with a little help. She maneuvers through her surroundings with a special cane that vibrates when it gets close to obstacles.
Her organization website is http://www.shep-ok.org